Solar roof panels and electric vehicle are undoubtedly growing in popularity across the U.S., but neither has become a standard or default choice for consumers, in part because buyers must sacrifice savings, aesthetics or convenience to adopt these technologies. Some don’t want to endure unsightly panels on their home or the time required to charge an electric car; others simply can’t afford the increased price tag.
However, Tesla Inc., the Palo Alto, Calif.-based automaker, energy-storage and solar-panel company, is making moves to bring more sustainable-energy users into the fold. In a letter to shareholders on Feb. 22, 2017, the company made announcements about several advances that could make their tech more attainable. The letter included information about a second “Gigafactory,” their newest electric vehicle (the Model 3), Tesla’s new solar power roof tiles and an expansion of their car-charging network.
In the shareholder’s report, Tesla named its second “gigafactory”—a term they coined for a factory capable of producing a gigawatt-hour of energy, which is a billion watts per hour.
In the past, Tesla has mentioned the need to create more factories in addition to Gigafactory 1, located outside of Sparks, Nev., but had not announced any solid plans. As a result, several European countries had been vying to be the home of Gigafactory 2. Tesla sidestepped the argument entirely, casually calling their Buffalo, N.Y.-factory (a facility acquired in a $2.1 billion merger with SolarCity in November 2016) Gigafactory 2 while teasing the introduction of up to three new factories.
The letter states, “Later this year, we expect to finalize locations for Gigafactories 3, 4 and possibly 5 (Gigafactory 2 is the Tesla solar plant in New York).”
Tesla’s update on the Model 3 focused on their goal to begin limited production on the $35,000 vehicle as early as July 2017, with increased production to 5,000 vehicles per week later in the year.
The company began building prototypes in early February and reported positive results from initial crash tests. In addition, they began installing Model 3 manufacturing equipment in their factory in Freemont, Calif. and at Gigafactory 1 in January.
Gigafactory 1 is what many believe will allow Tesla to deliver on the $35,000 price point Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk has promised since September 2015. Before production, Tesla stated that utilizing Gigafactory 1 would result in a 30 percent cost reduction for the batteries. More recently, according to Electrek, a Model 3 promotional video touted a “35 percent cost reduction”.
At $35,000, the Model 3 will be Tesla’s first mass-market vehicle, making the technology available to a much larger portion of the population than previous Tesla models or vehicles from competitors. The next cheapest Tesla option, the 2017 Model S Tesla, costs $68,000.
Solar-Powered Roof Tiles
The company also stated they will begin selling and installing their new solar panel roof tiles later this year. Musk introduced the solar-powered tiles in October of 2016, along with an updated version of Tesla's home battery, emphasizing that the tiles would be better looking than standard roof-mounted solar panels and that it’s, “quite promising that a [this] solar roof will actually cost less than a normal roof [even factoring in the cost of labor]," though no specific pricing information has been released.
The tiles are available in four shingle types: textured glass, which most closely resembles traditional asphalt shingles; French slate tile; smooth glass tile for a more modern aesthetic and Tuscan glass tile. Musk subjected the tiles to a weight test and noted that they can be walked on like traditional asphalt shingles and could be heated to clear snow.
Finally, Tesla announced a significant expansion of their Supercharger network, planning to double the number of locations in the U.S. in 2017, which currently includes 2,636 Superchargers at 373 locations across the U.S.
While Tesla owners generally charge their vehicles at home overnight, when traveling they have two options: Destination Charging stations or Supercharger stations. There are over 2,000 Destination Charging sites across the U.S., commonly found at restaurants, hotels, shopping centers and even some Airbnb locations. At these chargers, users are expected to leave their vehicle for an extended period of time while they’re shopping, dining or overnight.
Superchargers, on the other hand, are meant for drivers on the go. At a Supercharger station, owners of Tesla’s Model S, Model X and future Model 3 owners, can quickly charge their vehicles on long road trips, providing up to 170 miles of driving after just 30 minutes of charging. The expansion of this network, makes a cross-country road trip, vacation or move more feasible in a Tesla vehicle, increasing their potential applications and perhaps the number of people purchasing them.
Ultimately, these innovations and advances don’t remove all the barriers preventing consumers from utilizing sustainable-energy products. Nevertheless, lowering costs, improving aesthetics and increasing applicability is necessary if sustainable energy is going to be attainable for the everyman.
To read the shareholder’s letter in full, visit http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/ABEA-4CW8X0/3747283494x0x929284/22C29259-6C19-41AC-9CAB-899D148F323D/TSLA_Update_Letter_2016-4Q.pdf.